Friday June 8, 2012
Our heritage in danger of being extinct
By ALEX ANTON NETTO
Foreign tourists are more interested in our National Museum, Kellie’s Castle, pre-war and pre-independence buildings, the iconic Sultan Abdul Samad building and our first Prime Minister’s home.
IT is truly disappointing to see the development of substandard politics taking centre stage in Malaysia. We stand witness to gyrating posteriors, cow heads being paraded, and the pelting of stones at political gatherings which somewhat reflect the age of idolatry and sin or zaman jahiliyah that we claim to have developed from.
It is time we focused some of that energy on more worthy causes. Not too long ago, the World Heritage Fund (WHF), a body entrusted to protect, preserve, and sustain the most significant and endangered cultural heritage sites in the developing world released a report entitled “Saving our Vanishing Heritage”.
The report aimed to highlight the urgent need to put in place a foolproof mechanism to safeguard the numerous invaluable heritage sites located in some of the more volatile nations around the world.
The Maluti Temples in India, the Palace of San Souci (Haiti), Hisham’s Palace in Palestine and the old city of Kashgar in China were just some of the many heritage sites highlighted in the WHF’s comprehensive report as places in need of urgent attention, and which have suffered due to poor management, lack of funding, awareness, and etc.
Bringing this plight back home, the National Heritage Act 2005 was formulated by Parliament and made its way to the numerous legislation already in place in Malaysia.
Significantly, Section 6 of this Act created the post of “Heritage Commissioner” which was entrusted with the duty of supervising, preserving and maintaining sites of heritage value.
Rather wide powers are also bestowed on the Commissioner through this Act. For instance, under Section 33, the Commissioner is empowered to issue an interim protection order to halt work at a heritage site in order to preserve the same.
With the existence of such an Act, one would think that our national heritage would be in good hands. On the contrary, after the passing of this Act, part of the wall of the historic Pudu Prison came crashing down in order to make way for what has been rumoured to be a shopping mall. Are we really in desperate need of yet another shopping mall?
Then, another threat presented itself along the iconic Jalan Sultan in Kuala Lumpur, where scores of heritage pre-war buildings were slated to be torn down in order to make way for a multi-million dollar train project.
A casual walk along the streets of Tun Perak, Lebuh Pasar, and etc, will also reveal numerous colonial structures on the brink of collapse making way for ultra modern structures.
Malaysia, fortunately, is not on the WHF list of countries with heritage sites in dire need of attention, but given our euphoria in topping lists around the world, we may soon make it to that “prestigious” list if urgent attention is not given to our nation’s heritage.
Foreign tourists are not just interested in patronising our malls and shopping centres only to find outlets that originated from their country of domicile.
They come to see sights such as our National Museum, Kellie’s Castle, the rows and rows of pre-war and pre-independence buildings, the iconic Sultan Abdul Samad building and our first Prime Minister’s home.
Another Act of Parliament that received far more attention than the National Heritage Act 2005 was the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.
This Act grants the relevant authorities, such as Perhilitan and the Veterinary Department wider powers to prosecute individuals and companies that illegally trade and destroy completely protected species and species that are on the verge of becoming extinct.
Again, even with this Act in place, we see numerous pangolins being smuggled across borders to be mutilated for body parts. Turtle eggs are still readily available for consumption in and around states like Terengganu, and tiger carcasses have recently increased in numbers in Malaysia.
Also, the rate in which tropical forests, which serve as water catchment areas and home to numerous flora and fauna, are being cleared throughout the country is shocking to say the least.
The rising number of animal cruelty cases in Malaysia, especially where dogs and cats are concerned, is alarming. This reflects poorly on the state of our society which is rich in culture, beauty and respect for our surroundings.
Clearly, a more concerted effort by the relevant authorities is warranted, before we lose these precious “Malaysian heritage”.
As it is, current Malaysian statistics reveal that the elusive Malayan Tiger and Sumatran Rhinoceros are already at the point of vanishing forever.
> The writer is a young lawyer. Putik Lada, or pepper buds in Malay, captures the spirit and intention of this column – a platform for young lawyers to articulate their views and aspirations about the law, justice and a civil society. For more information about the young lawyers, visit www.malaysianbar.org.my.